2016 London Chess Classic (London, England)

With a recently-concluded World Championship match coronation of Magnus Carlsen, the other elite players will be pawning off in London, England for the last leg of the Grand Chess Tour beginning today, December 9th. The field will feature staple players in these elite events and mostly likely the next contender to challenge Carlsen in 2018.

In fact, the Grand Chess Tour features the same nine players plus a wildcard selection which in this case is England’s #1 player, Michael Adams. The “Sofia Rules” will be enforced such that no draws will occur in the first 40 moves. The tournament will adopt the football scoring of three points for a win and one point for a draw.

Wesley So makes his statement.

Wesley So giving victory speech at 206 Sinquefield Cup.
Photo by Lennart Ootes

Carlsen dropped out of the event earlier this year to focus on the match. The top seed in this event will be Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (2813) followed by Fabiano Caruana (2808) and Vladimir Kramnik (2808). So was a new addition to the tour this year after being a wild card at the Sinquefield last year. He won the Sinquefield event in August. Surprisingly Wesley So is leading the Grand Chess Tour by a whopping 8.25 points.

The field is as follows…

In what may be a preview of the Candidates tournaments next year, there are no new faces, but players such as Ding Liren and Wei Yi may be waiting for their turns in years to come. The larger question seems to be whether the Grand Chess Tour is a viable model.

When Norway pulled out of the tour, two rapid events were added in Paris, France and Brussels, Belgium. So far, the London Classic has been wildly successful with IM Malcolm Pein using the tournament as a platform for his Chess in Schools and Communities initiative. Carlsen will not be participating in the tournament, but there will be a screening of a biographical movie named, “Magnus.”

Along with the 8th London Chess Classic, Chess in Schools and Communities (CSC) has announced additional events. The British Knockout Championship semi-finals will feature four of Britain’s top players in a format that is certain to bring excitement at the Conference Centre in Kensington, London. There is the 4th Pro-Biz Cup designed to involved the business community with chess promotion and charity.

There is also a London Chess Conference and the FIDE Open event (December 9th-16th), a 9-round Swiss format with a £20,000 prize fund and possible norm opportunities. The Super Rapidplay Open will return on 17th-18th December and will be a 10-round FIDE rated open with all players playing in the same section and competing for section prizes.

(Drum Coverage from 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015)

2016 London Chess Classic
December 9-18, 2016 (London, England)
#
Name
Title
Federation
Flag
Rating
1 Caruana, Fabiano GM USA
2823
2 Kramnik, Vladimir GM Russia
2809
3 Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime GM France
2804
4 So, Wesley GM USA
2794
5 Aronian, Levon GM Armenia
2785
6 Anand, Viswanathan GM India
2779
7 Nakamura, Hikaru GM USA
2779
8 Giri, Anish GM Netherlands
2771
9 Topalov, Veselin GM Bulgaria
2760
10 Adams, Michael GM England
2748
(Official Site)

Video by CCSCSL.

Official Site: https://www.grandchesstour.com (live games)
Live Coverage: https://live.londonchessclassic.com/grand-chess-tour-2016.php
Drum Coverage: https://www.thechessdrum.net/blog/2016/12/09/2016-london-chess-classic-london-england/

26 Comments

  1. 2016 London Chess Classic
    1 Aronian, L
    ARM
    1-0
    Adams, M
    ENG
    2 Nakamura, H
    USA
    0-1
    So, W
    USA
    3 Vachier-Lagrave, M
    FRA
    ½-½
    Giri, A
    NED
    4 Caruana, F
    USA
    ½-½
    Anand, V
    IND
    5 Kramnik, V
    RUS
    1-0
    Topalov, V
    BUL
    Official Site

    Round #1: Friday, 9 December 2016
    London bridges falling down! Three decisive games in first round.

    Broadcast coverage of Nakamura-So encounter
    Video image taken from londonchess.com

    Hikaru Nakamura turned 29 today and wanted to repeat the theme of birthday success of Magnus Carlsen. Unfortunately, he got saddled with a shock losing to teammate Wesley So after forgetting his analysis in a Grunfeld. Nakamura had been seen on social media enjoying his time off and commenting on the World Championship match. Even after a loss he may still be a contender in this long tournament.

    So hits Nakamura with the shocker 13…Nxe4!

    In Nakamura-So, it was a sharp Grunfeld with 9…e5!? which had been first tested in Dokhioan-Svidler, Copenhagen 1991 with 10.dxe5 Qxd2+ 11.Kxd2 Rd8+ 12.Kc2 b6! 13.Bc4 Bb7 14.f3 Bxe5 and black was fine. More recently in Biel 2016, Svidler-MVL went 10.dxe5 Qxd2+ 11.Kxd2 Rd8 12.Kc2 Bd7 13.f4 Bc6! and black went on to win. On 10.dxc5?!, black gets good play after 10…Qxd2+ 11.Kxd2 Be6. The game continued on and after Nakamura opted for 10.d5 Nd7 11.c4 f5 12.Bg5 Nf6. At this point, Nakamura played 13.Ne2? and was hit with a cold shower after 13…Nxe4!

    Complications favored So after 14.Bxd8 Nxd2 15.Be7 Rf7 (Anand suggested 15…Ne4 16.Bxf8 Bxf8 with blockade on d6.) 16.Bxc5 Nxf1 17.Rxf1 b6! The pawn structure is under pressure and the white king is a perilous position. So expertly opened up the position for his Ginsu bishops and wrapped up the point with a the nice 29.Re8! Nakamura painfully resigned, but there are still eight rounds left.

    Another matchup was Kramnik-Topalov, two rivalries who still do not shake hands due to the “Toiletgate” scandal from their 2006 match. This game was filled with pre-game drama, but this game was a complete disaster for Topalov. Kramnik uncorked a novelty 9.Nb5! After the game Kramnik mentioned that he was surprised that Topalov went into this dubious line.

    On 9…cxb2 10.Bxb2 Bd7 11.Qb3 Bc6 12.Rfd1 Qc8 13.Rac1 with a strong initiative. Kramnik drove the pawn to c7 tying up black’s army. Topalov suggested that instead of 20..e6?? he could play 20…Qb7. In fact, the engines say that the position is approximately equal. After the calamitous 20…e6 black’s position collapsed after 21.Nb5. Kramnik finished with another knight romp with 28.Ng5! Topalov resigned in lieu of 29.Nxe6. The two did not shake hands, but Kramnik was asked about the tension.

    Hmmmm.

    There were a number of missteps in the round as Michael Adams dropped a piece against Levon Aronian in a tense position. This Guioco Piano went into known theory but when Adams equalized he went in for 18…Bxd3?! 19.Qxd3 e4 when white goes 20.Qd4! Black was still OK, but after Aronian got play with two bishops, he goaded black into an uncomfortable choice. On 33.Qxe5+ black had to play 33…Ka7 when 34.Qxc5 Rxd1+ 35.Bxd1 Rd8 is equal. Adams erred with 33…Ka8?? which tosses a piece after 34.Rxd8+ Rxd8 35.Qf6!

    Caruana’s 29.d4! looked to be a full front assault, but the former champion held him off.

    Caruana-Anand had some critical moments out of an English. The turning moment came on 28…Qb1 and Caruana’s aesthetically provocative 29.d4! The U.S. Champion thought this provided white with chances and Anand stated he lost the thread a bit after 29…exd4 30.Bxd4 31…Rc8. After Caruana’s 32.Ba1, the game started to veer toward dynamic equality. Caruana thought 32.e5 was a better chance, but there was not much left after the queens came off. This was the round of two bishops vs. two knights.

    Lastly, there was MVL-Giri Najdorf Sicilian which was done in 24 moves after a three-fold repetition. The side story here was the 6.h3 line which has picked up steam given the resources black has against the 6.Bg5 (Poisoned-Pawn), the staid 6.Be2 and the over-analyzed 6.Bc4. The latter was a favorite of Bobby Fischer and inspired others to play it during the “Fischer Boom.”

    One such player was IM Emory Tate who scored many spectacular victories with the weapon. His son Emory “King Cobra” Tate III was at the venue hanging out. The four-time kickboxing World Champion has been on British reality shows lately. A book on his father will be released within the next few weeks.

    Key matchup in Round #2 will be a battle to two first-round winners Kramnik-Aronian. Caruana will be looking to get in the win column against a beleaguered Topalov who was over 2800 in last year’s event (now 2760). The Bulgarian stated in the Sinquefield Cup that he no longer competes with as much determination as in the past. His cavalier approach to elite events has resulted in the shedding of Elo points, but may be taking a spot from a player who is a bit hungrier and in need of elite-level experience. Let’s hope he doesn’t repeat his performance in last year’s event with -4.

    Full Broadcast (Round #1) 4:50:40

    Official Site: https://www.grandchesstour.com (live games)
    Live Coverage: https://live.londonchessclassic.com/grand-chess-tour-2016.php
    Drum Coverage: https://www.thechessdrum.net/blog/2016/12/09/2016-london-chess-classic-london-england/

  2. 2016 London Chess Classic
    1 Kramnik, V
    RUS
    ½-½
    Aronian, L
    ARM
    2 Topalov, V
    BUL
    0-1
    Caruana, F
    USA
    3 Anand, V
    IND
    1-0
    Vachier-Lagrave, M
    FRA
    4 Giri, A
    NED
    ½-½
    Nakamura, H
    USA
    5 So, W
    USA
    1-0
    Adams, M
    ENG
    Official Site

    Round #2: Saturday, 10 December 2016
    Boards blaze! Wesley So sizzles; Caruana swindles

    After the World Championship match, the gap closed between Magnus Carlsen and the rest of the world. Only 14 points separate the World Champion from #2 and Wesley So seems to be gaining. After winning the Sinquefield Cup, two Olympiad medals and now winning his first two games at the London Classic, So eclipses 2800 for the first time and only the 12th person to do so. It seems only a short time ago that 2700 was the level of super-GM status. It was actually 20 years ago when only a few had reached 2700. Now the #45 person is 2700.

    Ironically So’s win over Michael Adams was his second in as many games and he did it from the slimmest advantages. So used the Catalan, which in the hand of his colleague Vladimir Kramnik, has been a killing machine. Adams attempted the interesting maneuver of 11…Ra6 tried first in an amateur game in 1991 and then by Peruvian Julio Granda Zuniga against Valery Salov six years later. After 13.Qc2 Adams deviated from 13…Bxf3 in Ruck-Moor (2005) with 13…h6.

    In a critical line, after 18.Bxc6, Alejandro Ramirez pointed out three lines… 18…exd4, 18…Rxc6, 18…Bxc3. Adams went for the first option and got a playable position. However, he ceded the two bishops after So played 19.Bf3. So’s bishop pair was superior as the vice slowly tightened. Despite not being in time trouble, Adams blundered with 37…Nc7?? which loses material. In fact, after 38.f5! Qg5?? 39.Be5! forces Adams to donate a piece since Bf4 and e5 wins the queen or cedes mate. In the post-game interview, he Englishman was noticeably rattled after a second blunder in as many games.

    While So-Adams made history, most exciting game of the round was undoubtedly Anand-MVL. This Najdorf Sicilian entered full hand-to-hand combat within the first ten moves after white’s provocative 9.g4. Of course this has all been seen many times and Anand’s preparation is legendary. In the other corner stood MVL, a noted Najdorf Expert who would be a credible foil. The game got tense in the middlegame after black sacrificed a pawn for fluidity in piece play.

    Anand’s 24.Rxd5 was a bold try
    in a critical position.

    Anand kept a grip on the position with his pawn armada on the kingside and a strong bunker on the queenside sheltering the king. The move 19.Qf2! put an end to black’s violent incursion and MVL tried regrouping. In the meantime, Anand got a killer bishop on e5 and pieces melted off the board with 21…a4 22.bxa4 Bxc3 23.Bxc3 Nxd5 (diagram) 24.Rxd5! sacking the exchange for another pawn after 24…Rxd5 25.Bxe4. With two pawns for the exchange it appeared to be dynamic equality, but then black made a misjudgement by trading queens and a pair of rooks. The bishops controlled the knight and rook and the game ended on a well-known motif with 33.Bxb7! Indian fans were justifiably excited. Anand got an early birthday present.

    Another “cracker” of a game was Topalov-Caruana. The Bulgarian made his intentions known early on with 13.Rh3 after 7.h4.

    Caruana missed a star move in this position after 30.Re1. Can you spot it?

    So… a French with white essaying a crude attacking formation encouraged Caruana to castle queenside and played the characteristic jab of 15…f6! Now white would try to raid the kingside after 17.Rg3 Be8 18.Nh4 Bd6 19.Rg7. The board exploded after 19…e5 and it would be clear that someone’s king would fall in this game. It appeared to be the American’s. White is completely winning after 25…Nd3 26.Bxd3 exd3 27.Re1. Caruana missed 27…d2! while still losing, confuses the issue.

    There was a beautiful line pointed out after 27…Bc5 28.Re6 29.Qg5 Bd4 (better is 29…Bxa3! 30.bxa3 Qb5!) 30.Re1?? (diagram) Caruana played 30…Bxc3 missing 30…Rxg7!! On 31.Rxg7 Rh8!-+ wins and on 31.Bxd4 Bxg5 32.Bxb6+ Kxb6 black is much better. Topalov was still better until 35.Nd2?? dxc3, but missed 36.Nc4 Re8!! which wins on the spot. Tough ending for Topalov who has blundered two games in a row.

    The two non-decisive games were tense with Aronian-Kramnik getting a wild position after 20.e5 Bxg2 21.exf6 Qb7 but the game petered out rather quickly. In Giri-Nakamura, the Dutch player beared in to the weak d6-square for the entire game, but there was clearly not much to play for in the position and a draw was the normal result.

    Round Highlights

    Video by GM Daniel King

    Full Broadcast (Round #2) 4:47:29

    Official Site: https://www.grandchesstour.com (live games)
    Live Coverage: https://live.londonchessclassic.com/grand-chess-tour-2016.php
    Drum Coverage: https://www.thechessdrum.net/blog/2016/12/09/2016-london-chess-classic-london-england/

  3. 2016 London Chess Classic
    1 Aronian, L
    ARM
    ½-½
    So, W
    USA
    2 Adams, M
    ENG
    ½-½
    Giri, A
    NED
    3 Nakamura, H
    USA
    1-0
    Anand, V
    IND
    4 Vachier-Lagrave, M
    FRA
    ½-½
    Topalov, V
    BUL
    5 Caruana, F
    USA
    ½-½
    Kramnik, V
    RUS
    Official Site

    Round #3: Sunday, 11 December 2016
    Hikaru rebounds… continues domination of Anand

    The only decisive game of the round was not the most exciting, but there is a sidenote. It is known that Hikaru Nakamura has difficulties against Magnus Carlsen losing 11/12 decision games against him. However, his win over Viswanathan Anand pushing his score to 8/9. It is interesting that players are psychologically-affected when facing a particular opponent. Mikhail Tal used to lose consistently to Viktor Korchnoi and of course Vladimir Kramnik won 14 games against Judit Polgar without a loss. What is it? Hard to tell. However, Anand’s meltdown was shocking.

    Hikaru Nakamura seems to be one of the few players to have Viswanathan Anand’s number. Photo by Ray Morris-Hill.

    Anand played a provocative 8…g5 (which weakened the light squares) had been played many times before at top level. In fact, the game followed the path of Vitiugov-Aronian 2015 until 12.a3. Anand’s 13…Kf8 looked suspect and Nakamura quickly began to work on loosening up the king’s cover. The key moment came when Anand played 22…Rhe8. Theory states that the rook has to stay on h8 in case more defensive measures are needed.

    After 23.fxg5 hxg5 Nakamura punched out with 24.e4! While the move does not win, it threatens to blast open the position which would be perilous for black. On 24…Nxe4 25.N5xe4 dxe4 26.Rxe4 white was winning after 26…Rxe4?? Anand had to donate his queen after 27.Nxe4 Qg6 28.Nf6! Qxf6 29.Rxf6 Kxf6 30.Qc3!

    In the ensuing position, black tried to coordinate pieces for a fortress, but the weakened kingside would not offer adequate cover. The fleet-footed queen was poised to pick off another piece in the end.

    Aronian-So after 10.Rxc1. No.. this was not a handicap game with move odds.

    The most hard-fought game today was Aronian-So with the leader of the tournament almost taking a loss. The game featured a line in the English not seen in top level chess since the 70s and 80s. On 1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nb4 6.Bc4 the sharpest line was 6…Be6!? 7.Bxe6 Nd3+. However, So played 6…Nd3+ 7.Ke2 Nf4+ 8.Kf1 Nd3 9. Qe2 Nxc1 10.Rxc1. He played this line for this position???

    Look at the position. Five developed pieces to a measly pawn on c5? Many gambit players would dream to get this piece play at the cost of a couple of pawns, but Aronian has not sacrificed anything! We have seen a lot of rules broken in this tournament, but this type of recklessness almost cost So a full point.

    Aronian went on the offensive with 11.h4! However, he is not going to shove the h-pawn, but after 11…a6 12.e5 Nc6 he essays 13.Rh3!? This move looks aggressive and perhaps like Topalov yesterday he wants to attack the kingside or maybe swing rook over to the queenside. While Aronian was enjoying the warmth of afternoon tea, it was So who had to sweat quite a bit.

    It is hard to believe that black’s Swiss cheese queenside could give black adequate shelter. White tried to blast through with 26.d4, but black tried to use white’s own pawn as a blockade on the c-file. It worked and So found resources! White had no way to break through and when the queens came off there was nothing better than to sue for peace.

    The other three games ended in instructive rook and pawn endings. In Caruana-Kramnik, black got two rooks on the 7th rank but white’s active rooks held easily. In MVL-Topalov, there was a Berlin on the board, but leave it to the Bulgarian to spice things up. When 12…g5! was thrown on the board, many gasped, but actually MVL has seen this before… in one of his own blitz games!

    Black had a strange position with trebled pawns on the c-file and an airy king. However, he found some counterplay with 25…f4! and now white was trying to hold the position. Topalov kept throwing more wook on the fire with 29…Nh5! and seemed to be readying himself for a knockout punch. MVL responded with the computer-like 30.Rg1! Topalov may have missed his chance after 30…cxd5 and should’ve opted for 30…Qf5! after 30…cxd5 heavy material came off and a draw was academic in 10 more moves.

    Adams-Giri breathed fresh air with a Rossolimo Sicilian. This line is similar to Chekhover variation after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4!? Nc6 5.Bb5. The game the knight is on d7. In the middlegame was a typical Sicilian theme… battle over d5-square. Usually if black gets in d5, it’s trouble for white. So Adams overprotected d5 with knights on c3 and e3, but guess what? Black played d5 anyway gambitting a pawn and achieving equality rather smoothly. In fact, it was white fighting for the draw. However, Adams set up a well-known fortress and split the point.

    Round Highlights

    Video by GM Daniel King

    Full Broadcast (Round #3) 6:21:39

    Official Site: https://www.grandchesstour.com (live games)
    Live Coverage: https://live.londonchessclassic.com/grand-chess-tour-2016.php
    Drum Coverage: https://www.thechessdrum.net/blog/2016/12/09/2016-london-chess-classic-london-england/

  4. 2016 London Chess Classic
    1 Caruana, F
    USA
    ½-½
    Aronian, L
    ARM
    2 Kramnik, V
    RUS
    ½-½
    Vachier-Lagrave, M
    FRA
    3 Topalov, V
    BUL
    0-1
    Nakamura, H
    USA
    4 Anand, V
    IND
    ½-½
    Adams, M
    ENG
    5 Giri, A
    NED
    ½-½
    So, W
    USA
    Official Site

    Round #4: Monday, 12 December 2016
    Is this it for Topalov?

    Different day… same sh…stuff. Not really. Today’s round had four draws and one win by Hikaru Nakamura and more unorthodox openings, so that the same. Anish Giri tried the London System perhaps an inside joke in honoring the moment. Everyone was in on it, even his opponent…

    He ended with the same result as Carlsen’s “Trumpowsky Attack” but not before Wesley So tried to deliver a knockout blow with 12…f4!? It seemed as if Giri was busted, but he calmly gave back the pawn and consolidated. So bishops were much better and he ended up winning a pawn, but didn’t capitalize on his opportunities.

    While the games have been hard fought and inspiring, one player wanted to inspire with his attire. He became the focus of a trivia question by Press Officer Fiona Steil-Antoni. Who is this man?

    After many guesses, it turns out that it was not Anish Giri, nor a Michael Jackson impersonator, but…

    Levon Aronian!!

    The effervescent Aronian definitely made a fashion statement!
    Photo by Lennart Ootes

    As Spike Lee said to Michael Jordan, “It’s gotta be the shoes!” I’m sure Lev wishes his shoes would’ve brought as much flair as his outfit. Caruana-Aronian was an anti-Berlin where black spent a tempo to place his bishop on c5 to the surprise of many commentators. Thus, it appears that elite players today are breaking traditional rules to gain a psychological edge and to sidestep prepared lines. We’ve seen castled kings with no pawn cover, strange pawn thrusts, rooks lifts and spent tempi. We have entered a new era.

    Nevertheless, the tense battle that ensued was a fairly equal affair with an interesting feature that only one pair of pawns had been exchanged before black captured another pawn with 29….Qxe3 allowing a three-fold repetition. Anand-Adams was another Guioco Piano Where the five-time World Champion got nothing special. Adams, who had a rough start with two losses held his second game and seems to be steadying himself… or a least increasing in confidence.

    After 21.d5! and 22.dxc6 white seemed to be on top after the ensuing complications.

    In Kramnik-MVL, a Grunfeld saw the sharp 7…e5!? as theory continues to take new turns. There was some fireworks in the middlegames with 13…f5!? 14.Nc5 c6 15.Bb2 Qd6 16.e3.Nxc4!? but black did not equalize… not just yet. White increased his advantage with the powerful 21.d5! as black’s pieces were flat-footed on the first rank. It appears after white’s 22.dxc6! he is clearly better. There was a frantic exchange of pieces and when the smoke cleared, white was a pawn up with a superior bishop over the knight. However 28.Kf1 may have allowed black adequate counterplay and MVL scrambled for the half-point.

    The decisive game of the day was Hikaru Nakamura coming off a win over a former world champion, faced another in Veselin Topalov. This game had an interesting sidenote with the retrograde opening of 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5!? which ventures into a type of French without the c8-bishop being hemmed in. Immediately, the game became un-French like with violent skirmish in the opening.

    Topalov watching the new powers in chess pass him by. Photo by Lennart Ootes

    Topalov went in for a speculative queen sacrifice after 17.Nxe7 Rb8 18.Nxf5 Rxb5 19.Nxg7+ Ke7 20.cxb5. White had three pieces for the queen, but was unable to coordinate them due to the far-reaching tentacles of the black queen. If one puts this game into a database and play the moves from move 22 forward, notice that the black queen roams the entire board hunting down and devouring white material.

    In the end, the queen had devastated the white army and after 53…Rc6 was ready to deliver mate. This game would make a good drama tragedy! Tragedy indeed. This is what describes Topalov’s performance thus far. He has now dropped to #19 on the live rating after being over 2800 in last year’s London Classic. The question may be swirling, “Is this it for Topalov?” Is he readying for retirement from professional chess? Certainly appears so.

    Round Highlights

    Video by GM Daniel King

    Full Broadcast (Round #4) 5:33:19

    Official Site: https://www.grandchesstour.com (live games)
    Live Coverage: https://live.londonchessclassic.com/grand-chess-tour-2016.php
    Drum Coverage: https://www.thechessdrum.net/blog/2016/12/09/2016-london-chess-classic-london-england/

  5. 2016 London Chess Classic
    1 Aronian, L
    ARM
    ½-½
    Giri, A
    NED
    2 So, W
    USA
    ½-½
    Anand, V
    IND
    3 Adams, M
    ENG
    1-0
    Topalov, V
    BUL
    4 Nakamura, H
    USA
    ½-½
    Kramnik, V
    RUS
    5 Vachier-Lagrave, M
    FRA
    ½-½
    Caruana, F
    USA
    Official Site

    Round #5: Tuesday, 13 December 2016
    Adams gets the “W” … Topalov in free fall

    Michael Adams has been a national hero since becoming the youngest Grandmaster in British history at 17 years old. That may not seem like much in an era where an Indian boy named Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa is threatening to become a GM at age 11! Nevertheless, Adams was facing one of his contemporaries in Veselin Topalov.

    Both had been on bad form, but this would be a battle of two opposites, a technician vs. brawler. In this game, there was an ebb and flow, but no one had a grip until Adams seized the opportunity with 15.e5! fxe5 16.Qg4. It’s another example of Adams’ efficiency in developing attacking formations. The position doesn’t look that menacing, but after Topalov predictably refused to enter a slightly worse endgame, Adams punished him. British fans went crazy and the buzz started…

    … however, it wasn’t over.

    Topalov banged down 29…Qg4 (diagram #1) apparently winning back a piece, but Adams played 30.Bg5! stopping mate. After 30…Rxe4 31.Qxa7 threatens mate and a certain death for the black king after 30…Bd5 31.Qa8+ Kd7. At this point, one commentator slipped saying that white simply wins after 32.Qxg8?? (diagram #2). However, black mates after 32…Re1+! 33.Rxe1 Qxg2#. Of course Adams played 32.Rxd5! and black resigned.

    With two draws and now a win Adams has climbed into respectability. Meanwhile, Topalov is in absolute rating free fall. Weighing in at 2803 a year ago, he has now dropped to #20 in the world.

    Aronian-Giri played a short game in which white got nothing. The Dutch player was credited with a self-proclaimed moral victory. His post-game comments cause quite a few furrowed brows.

    Well.

    In another bit of prepared, Twittersphere lit up when Viswanathan Anand essayed a bit of prep of his own with 10…Bxa3!!??

    After all of beauty of the patterns and preparation, the game ended in a very sterile and tranquil way.

    So-Anand after 30…Kxg6

    So what does one make of this idea of preparation? Commentators said that the position known as #518 (RNBQKBNR) in Fischer 960 still has a lot of life. However, the chess world seems hesitant to take on another version with any vigor. Fischer 960 remains as a variant that is trotted out for a novelty tournament. Will future elite tournaments end in positions above? Time will tell.

    One game that was certainly not a victim of preparation was Nakamura-Kramnik, a game ending in a stalemate. Nigel Short has gone on Twitter lately showing how horrible the stalemate rule is.

    The rule states, “The game is drawn when the player to move has no legal move and his king is not in check.” (FIDE Law of Chess, Article 5.2). It is a long-standing debate and the stalemating trick remains a tremendous resource in certain position. Most will see it as a last-ditch swindle (i.e., “crazy rook”) while many beautiful examples exist to demonstrate harsh lessons of inattention by the strong side.

    In this game, it appeared that three results were possible throughout the middle game. Kramnik seized the queenside, but made some inaccuracies and the action switched to the kingside with Nakamura pressing. There were a number of finesse moves involving sacrifices, but all lead to equal position be a stream of endless checks.

    Nakamura tried one last idea by sacrificing a knight for two connected passed pawns. Kramnik had to find a series of only moves… and he did it. The final 60…Nf7! trick means that white cannot penetrate to the d6 square and if he tries to advance the pawns, they are blockaded and he loses!

    After the game, Nakamura stated that he thought the sequence was winning and did not see the stalemating trick until the end. Indeed. Perhaps chess still has quite a bit of life and this tournament has shown some very enterprising ideas.

    Round Highlights

    Video by GM Daniel King

    Full Broadcast (Round #5) 6:36:23

    Video by CCSCSL

    Despite the precise preparation, this is what resulted.

    Official Site: https://www.grandchesstour.com (live games)
    Live Coverage: https://live.londonchessclassic.com/grand-chess-tour-2016.php
    Drum Coverage: https://www.thechessdrum.net/blog/2016/12/09/2016-london-chess-classic-london-england/

  6. 2016 London Chess Classic
    1 Vachier-Lagrave, M
    FRA
    1-0
    Aronian, L
    ARM
    2 Caruana, F
    USA
    1-0
    Nakamura, H
    USA
    3 Kramnik, V
    RUS
    ½-½
    Adams, M
    ENG
    4 Topalov, V
    BUL
    0-1
    So, W
    USA
    5 Anand, V
    IND
    ½-½
    Giri, A
    NED
    Official Site

    Round #6: Thursday, 15 December 2016
    Blockbuster games… heavyweight battles and trash-taking
    accent exciting round of chess!

    Muhammad Ali used to trashtalk his opponents to rattle them to the point of losing all senses about a match strategy. Opponents would be so upset that they would go in the boxing ring angry instead of composed. To make it worse, Ali would continue his barrage of insults during the fight. There were several occurrences in round six that spoke of psychological battles.

    First, the heavyweight fighting…

    This was certainly the most exciting round in a bloodletting round at the London Chess Classic. Fans and commentators were abuzz when two of the boards featured Najdorf Sicilians. The marquee battle was Fabiano Caruana against compatriot Hikaru Nakamura. The game started off with the 6.Bg5 variation which Caruana admitted that he doesn’t usually play, but he had some poison especially prepared.

    Nakamura opted for the neo-Poisoned Pawn variation with 7…h6 8.Bh4 Qb6. This has been championed by a number of top players including Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. The game followed known theory with 13…g5, but Caruana countered with 14.h4!N (diagram #1). Many of these games are decided by a tempo. This game was decided by some deep preparation.

    After Nakamura’s spirited 13…g5! Caruana’s 14.h4!N was the start of an all-out brawl in the Najdorf (diagram #1). A bit of home preparation gave Caruana enough courage to sacrifice the queen for two Godzilla knights… and a death grip on the neck Nakamura’s position. On 19.Qxf6! a queen sacrifice was on the board! Then after 19…Bxf6 20.Nd5 Qd8 21.Nf5! (diagram #2).

    There are a number of sacrifices in the Sicilian, but how many would be able to sack a queen for two minor pieces without a forcing advantage? Not many. However, Caruana did, but he almost messed it up. After 21…Rb8 22.Nxf6+ Qxf6 he should have continued with 23.Nxd6+! since 23…Kf8 runs into the brilliant 24.Bf5!! Who does that??

    Fabiano Caruana has moved to within 10 rating points of Magnus Carlsen. Photo by Lennart Ootes.

    So Caruana played the more human-like 23.Rxd6 and Nakamura was still breathing after 23…Be6 24.Rhd1 0-0! Did Caruana forget that Nakamura could castle? Nope! He played 29.b5 which was met with quizzical looks when 29.Nxf7+! won immediately.

    Caruana explained that he wanted to prevent the threat of Qxb4-e1 mate in some lines. So he played the coup de grace a move later with 30.Nxf7+! Rxf7 31.Rxe6 Qxb5 32.Rh6+ beautiful. The end is 32…Kg8 33.Rg1+ Kf8 34.Rh8+ Ke7 35.Rxb8 when 35…Qxb8 36.Bc5+! wins. Absolutely scintillating!

    Second, the trash-talking…

    Over the years, Anish Giri has developed the reputation of a player who lacks the killer instinct and is too content with drawing. It is the type of reputation that Peter Leko of Hungary held for years. Giri and Anand have a good relationship and often kid each other.

    In this game, another Najdorf Sicilian and #fireonboard was trending today. In Anand-Giri steered into another 6.h3 variation, but this time did not venture into the 6…e5 lines. Instead the more positional 6…e6 was played and Anand lashed out quickly with 7.g4 Be7 8.g5 Nfd7 9.h4. Opposite castling occurred and fans were preparing for a toe-to-toe brawl… and that’s it what they got.

    Amusingly GM Jonathan Tisdall made this remark…

    He is referring to the drawfest seen in the recent match won by Carlsen in tiebreaks. By contrast, today’s games all featured sacrifices at some point. While Anand didn’t sacrifice his queen in this game (he did so against Nakamura), he sacrificed a knight on b5 in trademark fashion. Typically white gets three pawns for the piece, but the pawns are usually at a2, b2 and c2. In this case, Anand had played a3 and b4.

    It was clearly dubious and Anand admitted that he had “gone too deep.” After 20…Rd8, jokes were thrown around about Giri was possibly winning a game of chess! Anand was on his heels and it appeared as if he would come under a crushing attack on his exposed king. Motto… never castle queenside, play a3 and b4, then sacrifice a piece on b5 clearing the files for the opponent’s rooks and queen. It’s a flawed idea.

    Anand was hanging around and trying to muddy the waters with 25.Rg3. After 25…Qd8+ 26.Ke2 Bxe4 black appears to be winning. Instead, Giri went for mate with 25…Rb1+ 26.Ke2 Qa6+ 27.Kxf3 Qxf1+ 28.Bf2 Qh1+ 29.Kxe3 Qxe4+ 30.Kd2 but soon found that he had nothing tangible. Giri couldn’t reel in the point. Foiled again.

    Giri has quipped previously that Anand was making it tough for the younger players and asked, “When is he going to retire?” In the post-game press conference, Anand fired back… “When is he going to win a game?” It drew a loud round of laughs from the fans and even passed the trash-talk litmus test of commentator Maurice Ashley. Alas, Giri will have to put up with the “artist” jokes again! Oh… that he likes to draw.

    Viswanathan Anand ribbing Anish Giri to the delight of Maurice Ashley.
    Photo from CCSCSL broadcast.

    In MVL-Aronian, more sacrifices, but just as in the Anand game a knight sacrifice fell flat. However, Aronian perhaps overplayed his hand thinking that he could get at the white king. Negative. He only succeeding in donating all of his queenside pawns. Not sure what the thought was here, but MVL uninspired play in the tournament was finally rewarded. Another sacrifice appeared in Kramnik-Adams, but it didn’t lead to much and Adams has righted the ship after losses in his first two games.

    As far as Topalov-So is concerned, it was another dismal performance for the Bulgarian. This was before the round had begun…

    … not good sign.

    Topalov-So after 27…Ne2.
    A tragic ending for the Bulgarian Brawler.

    What was sad was not the fact that the Bulgarian was brutally being mated, but after he resigned he seemed to be profusely explaining his case to So. When you are doing badly, you have to explain to people what is wrong. So seemed sympathetic. Then in the post-mortem, Topalov showed a bit of class in explaining his dismal performance. He offered some lines, but it was clear, he was not seeing the board well.

    Topalov asserted, “Maybe my brain isn’t working.” Hard to see such a fighter go down with a whimper. It’s almost like seeing a former heavyweight boxing champion being beaten badly by a young upstart. Sparing the details of the 27-move game, it is safe to say by looking at final position, that white was not in the same league.

    Round Highlights

    Video by GM Daniel King

    Full Broadcast (Round #6) 4:30:18

    Video by CCSCSL

    Official Site: https://www.grandchesstour.com (live games)
    Live Coverage: https://live.londonchessclassic.com/grand-chess-tour-2016.php
    Drum Coverage: https://www.thechessdrum.net/blog/2016/12/09/2016-london-chess-classic-london-england/

  7. 2016 London Chess Classic
    1 Aronian, L
    ARM
    ½-½
    Anand, V
    IND
    2 Giri, A
    NED
    ½-½
    Topalov, V
    BUL
    3 So, W
    USA
    ½-½
    Kramnik, V
    RUS
    4 Adams, M
    ENG
    ½-½
    Caruana, F
    USA
    5 Nakamura, H
    USA
    1-0
    Vachier-Lagrave, M
    FRA
    Official Site

    Round #7: Friday, 16 December 2016
    London is hosting an 1.e4 theme tournament with the Najdorf as the star!

    The Ghost of Mikhail Tal visited London as a rash of spectacular Sicilians have graced the halls. Before going to today’s action, lets take look at one of the most beautiful examples.

    Losing? Tal did not win this game?? Is this a misprint? No… the artist was none other than the attacking genius of Rashid Nezmehtdinov! After Fabiano Caruana’s spectacular victory against Hikaru Nakamura’s Najdorf, the same line appeared in today’s round. Ironically, Nakamura played white this time! Perhaps he was inspired by Caruana as Tal was by Nezmehtdinov. He played the same exact line he lost to and handled it with power and grace.

    In this game, MVL followed Caruana-Nakamura until 13…Bb7 instead of Nakamura’s fateful 13…g5. However, after 14.Bg2 Rc8 15.Kb1 he went 14…g5 anyway. The difference is black has already mobilized on the c-file. In addition, the b7-bishop cuts the a8-h1 diagonal, so Nakamura played 16.Qh3! instead of the recommended 16.h4. What does this do? It gets the queen out of harm’s way and if 16…gxf4? 17.g5 is strong. After 16.Qh3, MVL countered with 16…Nc5 17.Rhe1 h5!? What a position!

    Nakamura assessed the key position and bolted forward with…

    …18.Nf5!!

    Another blazing Najdorf in Nakamura-MVL!

    During the post-game interview, Nakamura asserted, “I didn’t see any reason that it was losing on the spot… I didn’t see any risk, so why not take a chance.” After a series of exchanges in the center, the key moment according to Nakamura was 24.Ka1! Moves later, MVL is still hiding behind his wall of pawns, while stripping away white’s. In the position below, it appears as if white has some problems.

    There is still some danger for white after 27…bxa3

    However, in the postmortem Nakamura showed a very deep calculation when he stated that after 28.Qxf4 axb2+ 29.Bxb2, he had seen black’s shot of 29…Rg5! In fact Nakamura state that he had seen this move after MVL played 18…Ncxe4. Sheesh. Given the expanse of these lines the commentators and fans were simply in awe. However GM Josh Friedel made an incisive comments about trends with the black pieces.

    So after 29…Rg5 Nakamura closed the deal with 30.Qxd6+ Kg8 31.Rg1! squelching all counterplay. He finished it off nicely with 35.Rg6+ Kh5 36.Rg1 f5 37.Qf3+ and MVL will lose his queen or be mated.

    To be frank, two of the other games showed a simple spar, but not a championship-level match. Aronian-Anand was a very placid game and ended after the obligatory 30 moves white So-Kramnik took six moves more. Michael Adams eschewed his standard 1.e4 and played the English Opening. Despite the British connection, the opening gave Adams nothing special and the game was drawn rather comfortably by Caruana.

    Giri had his chance to play for a win with 51.g5! Will he draw every game in this tournament?

    The most interesting game was between two hapless competitors. Anish “The Artist” Giri and Veselin Topalov who has been a good client this tournament. This game was a tough struggle with pieces shuffling back and forth, probing and prodding. It was like a Greco-Roman wrestling match. In fact, pawns never moved again from moves 34-67.

    A key moment came after 50…Qa4?? Topalov basically took his queen out of play and white could’ve played a powerful stroke 51.g5! All of a sudden black’s kingside comes apart and the black queen is too far to aid her monarch. Play would go 51…fxg5 52.fxg5 hxg5 53.f4! g4 54.f5! breaking down the door. 54… Fortunately, Giri played 51.Nf2? The dance continued and Topalov’s king scurried to safety on the queenside. Giri missed his chance… again.

    A classic of Topalov capturing his certain mood at the London Classic.
    Photo by Lennart Ootes

    It was good fortunate that Topalov stopped the spate of losses. That is one of the remedies to getting back on course. For Topalov, the tournament has been a disaster. There is no other way to describe it. He seems rather listless and before the round, he appears to be groggy. Perhaps there is something more to his bad form than chess. He is still capable of playing sparkling chess, but this tournament was not such a time. If he finish with two wins… or without another loss, it would be a good ending.

    Round Highlights

    Video by GM Daniel King

    Full Broadcast (Round #7) 6:14:05

    Video by CCSCSL

    Official Site: https://www.grandchesstour.com (live games)
    Live Coverage: https://live.londonchessclassic.com/grand-chess-tour-2016.php
    Drum Coverage: https://www.thechessdrum.net/blog/2016/12/09/2016-london-chess-classic-london-england/

  8. 2016 London Chess Classic
    1 Nakamura, H
    USA
    ½-½
    Aronian, L
    ARM
    2 Vachier-Lagrave, M
    FRA
    ½-½
    Adams, M
    ENG
    3 Caruana, F
    USA
    ½-½
    So, W
    USA
    4 Kramnik, V
    RUS
    ½-½
    Giri, A
    NED
    5 Topalov, V
    BUL
    0-1
    Anand, V
    IND
    Official Site

    Round #8: Saturday, 17 December 2016
    Wesley So clinches Grand Chess Tour!

    While fans were joyous of Wesley So clinching the Grand Chess Tour, there were other emotion surrounding the event. Many fans were scrambling for the record books to see when a former World Championship has had such an abysmal performance as Veselin Topalov.

    After his ignoble loss to Viswanathan Anand, Topalov now has six losses in eight rounds, scoring only two draws. There is serious concern as to Topalov’s plummet from the top 20. What could be the issues? The Bulgarian certainly has been one of the strongest players in the past two decades, but has he reached the sunset of his career? Is it simply a bad tournament? Well… two things are important to note… Topalov been shown nodding off prior to the rounds and his cracking in holdable positions. Puzzling.

    Anand springing 12…b5! the novelty.

    In round nine, he faced Anand’s 12…b5! an innovation brought by his second. The five-time World Champion rightfully seized the moment to complicate against a player who is not in form. He guessed right as Topalov was riding on a razor’s edge castling queenside and ending up with trebled b-pawns!! Imagine that. Perhaps Topalov did not learn from Anand’s practice of playing with a shredded pawn cover in front of the king. However, he held the position together… just barely.

    Anand had missed the decisive 21…Bg4! since 22.f3 Bf5 gives black the e3-square. A key moment occurred as Anand bore down on a weakened white king. Anand showed some dazzling lines in the post-game interview, but concurred that Topalov was holding just fine. On white’s 26.Rd1 Anand showed 26…Qc7 looking at 27.Qe8+ Kg7 28.Rd8 Bd6+ 29.Ka3 Qc3+! 30.Ka4 (30.bxc3?? Ra2#) Qb3+ 31.Ka5 Re2 32.Qh8 Kh6 33.Re5 Re4! with a probable draw. Anand actually played 26…Qb6 answered with 27.Bg4!

    Moves later, Topalov was holding on by a thread. Topalov began to unravel first with 31.h4? which earned quizzical looks since 31.Rd5 is approximately equal. They say that mistakes happen in bunches. After 31…Bc2 Topalov played with 33.Qc3?? and Anand plunked down 33…Qb5!

    Topalov is shown gazing at the imperiled king. After a think, he played 34.Qc6 which was curtly met by 34…Rxf3+ (overlooked that the capture was with check) with mate to follow. Given the foggy-eyed appearance, Topalov hasn’t gotten much rest, but the nightmare continues. Let’s hope he can right the ship and close the tournament on a high note against Levon Aronian.

    The other games were drawn without much fanfare. However, a couple of players can still catch So for a tiebreak opportunity. Nevertheless, the Filipino Diaspora is cheering their native son for his rousing success. Congratulations Wesley So!

    Round Highlights

    Video by GM Daniel King

    Full Broadcast (Round #8) 5:23:34

    Video by CCSCSL

    Official Site: https://www.grandchesstour.com (live games)
    Live Coverage: https://live.londonchessclassic.com/grand-chess-tour-2016.php
    Drum Coverage: https://www.thechessdrum.net/blog/2016/12/09/2016-london-chess-classic-london-england/

  9. 2016 London Chess Classic
    1 Aronian, L
    ARM
    0-1
    Topalov, V
    BUL
    2 Anand, V
    IND
    ½-½
    Kramnik, V
    RUS
    3 Giri, A
    NED
    ½-½
    Caruana, F
    USA
    4 So, W
    USA
    ½-½
    Vachier-Lagrave, M
    FRA
    5 Adams, M
    ENG
    ½-½
    Nakamura, H
    USA
    Official Site

    Round #9: Sunday, 18 December 2016
    Wesley wins London Classic and Grand Chess Tour!
    Topalov ends tournament with a win!!

    While Wesley So is not yet a U.S. citizen he has learned one of the certainties in life. One is death and there other… taxes. OK… the US$295,000 combined winnings of Wesley So will certainly get hit with a hefty tax from Uncle Sam, but he will soon add to the $100,000 he won in 2014 at the Millionaire Chess Open. It’s a good problem to have and the former Webster University student has been basking in the glory the entire 2016 campaign. Winning the last two Grand Tour events and two gold medal in between, it’s been a banner year for So.

    So – MVL (after 6.d2-d4)
    Hand-to-hand combat on move six!

    While he clinched the Grand Chess Tour yesterday, there was still slight drama today as Fabiano Caruana and a couple of other could technically tie with So if he lost. All he needed was at least a draw to tie for first. So-MVL was rather short and another English. It is strange that the girl who played the opening move played 1.c4, but So transposed into a fashionable line with 1.Nf3 c5 2.c4 (2.e4!) Nc6 3.Nc3 e5 4.e3. Fast forward, the game exploded after 6.d4!? This is actually a line that the two of them played in Leuven which also ended peacefully. In this game, MVL deviated and enjoyed nice piece play, but got little more than equality.

    There was excitement when two former World Champions were introduced. Both Viswanathan Anand and Vladimir Kramnik had played a total of 90 classical games in their careers with a score of +10-8=72 with Anand holding the slight edge. This game did not have any redeeming qualities or moments where the game hung in the balance. It would be their 73rd draw and lasted only 24 moves. In Giri-Caruana, we already know the result. The joke, puns and cracks are piling up. Hikaru Nakamura said he would rather have fun playing chess (win or lose) than “drawing every game.” Sergey Karjakin piled on…

    Despite playing the most exciting chess, Nakamura drew his game uneventfully in a Berlin. That meant he took 2nd place in the Grand Chess Tour (GCT) and won US$50,000. He has also qualified for the 2017 GCT circuit.

    Aronian-Topalov (after 18…Nxd5)
    Space Invaders coming to crush!

    Last but not least, we turn to an interesting encounter in Aronian-Topalov. Topalov has been a client this tournament losing six games, some in uncharacteristic fashion. This game was very characteristics of his bold and imaginative play. Against the Armenian, he play an enterprising piece sacrifice with 16…bxc4!? After 17.axb4 cxb4 18.Bd2 Nxd5. Had Topalov become unhinged? Many thought he was heading for his 7th loss. Black had three pawns and they looked like the monsters in the old Space Invaders video game.

    Topalov seemed a bit overzealous and tried to advance the pawns immediately with 19…c3? The commentators predicted that pawns were too weak, would be picked off and blockaded. However, Topalov got tremendous play and Aronian decided to give the piece back, but the monsters proved to be unstoppable and the final position forced resignation.

    Constellation of pieces with Space Invaders advancing (diagram #1) and the final blow 53…Re1! A relieved Toppy gets the win! (diagram #2).

    Topalov has happy to end the tournament on a high note.

    Postscript: The London Chess Classic was an exciting event with a sterling performance by Wesley So (no pun intended). He has capped off a spectacular year winning the Sinquefield Cup, team and individual gold at Baku Olympiad, winning London Chess Classic and the Grand Chess Tour. while keeping his humility.

    There are many who are picking So as the next challenger along with Caruana. Unfortunately, no one saw this coming. No one. Last year no one would have picked him after his poor showing in the 2015 Sinquefield Cup as a wild card. It just shows that fans typically go with whomever is rising at the moment.

    A few years back, many were saying Hikaru Nakamura and most recently Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (as he rose over 2800+). In fact, few picked Sergey Karjakin and even Anish Giri didn’t mention him when he wrote his book, “After Magnus: Who can dethrone the World Chess Champion?” Personally, I believe all of the above players have an favorable chance to challenge Carlsen in 2018. It is safe to say that we should just be patient and enjoy the ride! Congratulations Wesley and to all the competitors for a fantastic tournament!

    Wesley So accepting the winner’s trophy from organizer IM Malcolm Pein.
    Photos by London Chess Center

    Round Highlights

    Video by GM Daniel King

    Full Broadcast (Round #9) 6:51:54

    Video by CCSCSL

    Official Site: https://www.grandchesstour.com (live games)
    Live Coverage: https://live.londonchessclassic.com/grand-chess-tour-2016.php
    Drum Coverage: https://www.thechessdrum.net/blog/2016/12/09/2016-london-chess-classic-london-england/

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